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Leaflet No. 5 - Revised 1995 - Cassava

Cassava - A popular plant
An easy crop
An energy food
Storage and preservation

Agdex 173/G76 - ISSN 1018-0966

Cassava - A popular plant

The cassava plant (also called manioc, manioke, tavioka, mendoka, tapioca) was brought to the Pacific during the last century. The plant was probably spread to the Pacific from Mexico by the Spanish and from Brazil by the Portuguese. Its roots have become a staple food on some islands. Its leaves are also eaten in some areas and are very nutritious. It is also an important livestock food, especially for pigs.

Because it is easy to grow and simple to prepare, cassava is becoming a very popular food crop. It also has a variety of other uses, such as in making glue, starch or fuel.

People in the Pacific are already growing a lot of cassava, so everyone should know the best ways to use this plant in his or her diet.

An easy crop

The cassava plant has the scientific name Manihot esculenta. It belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family, a very large and diverse family containing useful plants that give us castor oil, rubber, laxatives and different ornamental shrubs. Many different varieties of the plant grow in the Pacific.

The sweet kinds (which are lower in cyanide) are a better choice than the bitter ones when cassava is grown as a food. The plant is grown from cuttings taken from the base of the stem. They can be planted at any time of the year.

Cassava grows best in light, sandy soil where extra water drains off easily. But it can also grow in dry or poor soil where other crops cannot grow. It grows well when planted among coconuts or other crops. During periods of drought, the cassava plant shed its leaves as a survival mechanism. The plant can grow up to about 1.5 metres and there are many varieties with different stem colours and leaf shapes.

About six to nine months after planting, most varieties are ready for harvesting.

When the roots are harvested, the young leaves can also be pulled off for use as a vegetable. However, a few young leaves can be picked from the cassava plant before harvesting, but if too many are taken, the roots will not grow properly.

Percentage of daily needs of an adult woman, filled by one cup of cooked cassava root.

Percentage of daily needs of an adult woman, filled by one serving (about 1/2 CUD after cooking) of cassava leaves.

An energy food

The roots

The cassava root is not as nutritious as taro yam, sweet potato, bananas or breadfruit, but it does have some nutritional value. It contains a lot of carbohydrate which can provide the body with energy. It is a good source of Vitamin C, potassium and dietary fibre. The body needs energy for warmth, work and play. Vitamin C keeps body tissues strong, helps the body use iron, and helps wounds heal and fights infections. Potassium helps in maintaining a good balance of bodily fluids in the blood. Dietary fibre prevents constipation by helping the body to have regular bowel movements. It also tends to lower cholesterol levels in the blood and helps prevent heart diseases.

Cassava does not contain the good quality protein which the body needs to grow and be strong. So meals containing cooked cassava must also include foods high in protein such as meat, fish, eggs, beans and dark green leafy vegetables.

When mashed cassava is used for feeding infants, high-protein foods should be added to it. Babies and small children who do not get enough protein can suffer from serious malnutrition.

The leaves

A very nutritious addition to cassava root at meal times is cassava leaves. As the bar charts show, cassava leaves provide high amounts of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Half a cup of cooked cassava leaves would provide half of the daily Vitamin A needs of a young child. Vitamin A is needed for proper growth, healthy eyes and protection from disease. People should be encouraged to use this valuable food whenever it is available. Cassava leaves also have a fair amount of dietary fibre.

Storage and preservation

The best way to use cassava roots is cook them immediately after harvesting. After being dug up, the roots begin to rot very quickly and will stay fresh only for a few days.

Sometimes a lot of cassava must be harvested at once, for example, after a flood. When necessary, cassava can be preserved in various ways.

Covering with sawdust: In some parts of the Pacific, cassava roots are placed in shallow pits surrounded by damp sawdust. The pit is then covered with soil. This way the roots remain fresh for several months.

Drying: The cassava roots can be peeled, washed, and sliced thinly, then spread in the sun to dry. In hot, sunny weather, the slices will take only one day to dry. Dried cassava will keep for several months if stored in a clean airtight container. The dried cassava can later be cooked in water or pounded into flour.

Fermenting: Cassava can be preserved by a type of chemical change called fermentation. Fermentation increases the amount of B vitamins in the cassava. One way to ferment cassava is to make Bila (fermented grated cassava).

To make bila:

1. Peel, wash, and cut cassava into large pieces. Place the pieces in an enamel, clay or plastic pot, bowl or basin. Do not use iron or aluminium. Cover the cassava completely with water. Make sure no part of the cassava sticks out above the water or it will turn black.

2. Put a lid on and leave the cassava for about 4 or 5 days to ferment. As the cassava ferments, it will start to smell strongly and bubbles will rise in the water. The warmer the place it is left, the quicker it will ferment.

3. When the cassava becomes very soft to the touch, drain the water and spread the cassava out in the sun to dry for a few hours.

4. Pound the cassava with a stone and take out the stringy fibre.

5. Mix the fermented cassava with a little grated fresh cassava, if desired. (This will keep it from being too sticky.) Add grated coconut, mix well and divide into serving portions.

6. Wrap each portion in banana leaves or alfoil paper and steam or bake in an earth oven for one hour.

7. Serve immediately or save for later use. Bila will keep for about one week.

Freezing: If a freezer is available, cassava can be peeled, cut into serving-size pieces, sealed in plastic bags and frozen. Later, the frozen cassava can be cooked. It should not be allowed to thaw first.

Extracting cassava flour: Starch can be taken from the cassava root and made into cassava flour. Cassava flour can be used instead of cornflour for thickening soups, sauces, gravies and puddings.

Cassava flour can also be mixed with wheat flour when making bread, biscuits or other snacks. One-half or less of the mixture should be cassava flour and the rest wheat flour.

Making cassava flour instead of buying cornflour or large amounts of wheat flour can save money and trips to the store.

To make cassava flour:

1. Peel and wash the cassava root. Then grate it, wrap it up in a piece of muslin or other loosely woven material, and tie.

2. Fill two basins with cold water. Swish the cassava through the water in the first basin, rinsing and squeezing again and again. Do this for several minutes.

3. Swish the wrapped cassava in the same way through the water in the second basin, until all the milky white liquid has been squeezed out.

4. Let the water stand in the basins until the white starch has settled to the bottom (about one hour), then pour off the water. Scrape the cassava starch from the basins and spread it out on trays in the sun. When it is partly dry, break it up into small pieces.

5. When the cassava starch is completely dry, lay it on a clean cloth or leaf, and roll it with a rolling pin or bottle. When it becomes a fine and powdery flour, strain it through a sieve. Store in a jar or tin with a tightly fitting lid.


Cassava roots must be cooked:

Cassava root contains a chemical called hydrocyanic acid, which is poisonous. Cassava poisoning is not common in the Pacific, but care should be taken in preparing cassava.

Cassava should never be eaten raw. It should be peeled and washed thoroughly and cooked for a long time. Any cassava that tastes bitter should not be eaten.

The safest and easiest way to prepare cassava is to peel and wash the roots, cut them into pieces, and boil them in water.

A family-size pot of cassava will take 30 - 40 minutes to cook. When the cassava is cooked, the cooking water should be thrown away. This is because the water often contains harmful substances which the boiling has removed from the cassava.

Cassava can also be steamed, baked in a ground oven or roasted over an open fire. Boiling and steaming cassava are best. When grated, cassava can be used in puddings or included in meat and vegetable dishes to make a balanced meal.

Cassava leaves can also be prepared in a variety of ways. They make a tasty vegetable side dish and can add flavour and nutritional value to soups and other dishes. As long as cassava leaves are cooked carefully, they can be used in the same way as any other leafy green vegetables.

Because cassava leaves also contain hydrocyanic acid, they sometimes taste bitter. Very young, tender cassava leaves can be prepared by boiling once for 5 - 10 minutes, but older leaves, which usually have more hydrocyanic acid, must be prepared very carefully.

To cook cassava leaves:

1. Wash cassava leaves thoroughly, chop finely, and place in a pot with enough water to cover.

2. Bring water to the boil and boil for 5 - 10 minutes. Drain the water from the pot and throw it away.

3. Add enough fresh wafer or coconut cream to cover the leaves, put a lid on and cook until tender.

Note: Cassava leaves can be mashed and added to cooked rice or mashed root crops. This is a good meal for young children who do not like eating green vegetables.

Cassava soufflé

Four servings:

2 cups mashed, cooked cassava
2 eggs
¾ cup milk

1. Beat together the mashed cassava, milk and eggs.
2. Bake in a hot oven (400°F or 200°C) for 40 minutes.

Note: This is a good way to use up leftover cassava.


Six to eight servings:

4 cups grated raw cassava
1 cup coconut cream
1 cup cooked fish or lean meat
1 cup finely chopped green leaves
1 medium onion finely chopped

1. Soften small banana leaves over a fire and place a layer of grated cassava on the centre of the banana leaves.

2. Add a layer of green leaves, then a layer of chopped meat or fish.

3. Repeat layers: cassava, then leaves, then meat or fish. Top with a final layer of cassava.

4. Using a clean finger, poke holes from the top layer down to the bottom layer. Pour coconut cream through the holes.

5. Sprinkle chopped onions over the mixture.

6. Fold the softened banana leaves over cassava mixture to make a parcel, tie, and steam or bake for 1½ - 2 hours. Serve.

Note: Small one-serving parcels may also be made, using only one layer of meat or fish and leaves between two layers of cassava. These make nutritious, convenient school lunches for children. These parcels take less time (45 minutes) to cook, and may be cooked in boiling water as well as by steaming or baking. Alfoil paper can be used instead of softened banana leaves.

Cassava rolls

Four to six servings:

4 medium cassava
1½ cups of coconut cream
1 medium onion
½ cup finely chopped cassava leaves

1. Peel, wash and cut cassava into small pieces.

2. Boil until cooked, pour out the water and remove the stringy part of the cassava.

3. Pound the cooked cassava with a small amount of coconut cream until the mixture is moist and forms into a dough.

4. Heat coconut cream in a pot, add chopped onions and cassava leaves

5. On a chopping-board, divide dough into equal portions.

6. Roll dough into 3½ inch (9 cm) squares with a rolling-pin. Spoon coconut mixture into cassava squares and then roll.

Cassava balls

Three to four servings:

2 cups mashed cooked cassava
1 medium onion
1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, basil, sage) or ½ teaspoon dried herbs
1 egg
¼ cup cooking oil

1. Peel and chop the onion.
2. Mix together the mashed cassava, onion and herbs.
3. Lightly beet the egg. Add to the cassava mixture and mix well to form a smooth mixture.
4. Form mixture into small balls.
5. Lightly fry the cassava balls in cooking oil until golden brown.

Note: A finely chopped fresh chilli or clove of garlic can be used instead of the herbs. You can also add minced or shredded cooked meat or tinned fish.

Cassava meatloaf

Four servings:

½ kg (1 lb) minced meat
1 cup grated raw cassava
1 onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup chopped green leaves

1. Mix together all the ingredients except the oil.

2. Form mixture into a long roll, put into a greased baking tin and brush with oil. Or wrap rolled mixture in oiled foil and put into greased baking tin.

3. Bake in a slow oven (to 300°F or 150°C) for 1½ hours.

Note: Instead of baking, the cassava meatloaf may be wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.

Cassava bibinka

Four to six servings:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
3 cups grated raw cassava
Sugar to taste
½ cup thick coconut cream
½ cup scraped young coconut
4 tablespoons chopped nuts, if desired
60 g (2 oz) cheese, if desired

1. Beat eggs, then add coconut cream, grated cheese, and chopped nuts.

2. Add cassava and young coconut and mix well. Add sugar to taste.

3. Line a pan or cake tin with a banana leaf and pour in mixture.

4. Bake in a moderate oven (to 350°F or 180°C) for about 40 minutes.

5. When almost brown, brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine and sprinkle with a little sugar.

6. Continue baking until golden brown.

7. Serve cold as a dessert.

Banana pudding

Six to eight servings:


12 ripe bananas
1 cup grated raw cassava

1. Peel and slice the bananas, put them in a pot, cover with water, and bring to the boil.

2. Cook 20-30 minutes, then mash thoroughly.

3. Add grated cassava, sprinkling in a little at a time and stirring often. Cook until mixture thickens (about 3 minutes).

Coconut cream

2 coconuts
1 cup water

4. Grate the coconuts, add water, and squeeze out the coconut cream using clean coconut husk or cloth. Strain the cream through a sieve.

5. Serve the banana pudding with coconut cream.

Note: Pudding can also be served plain or with milk or cream

This leaflet is the fifth in a series devoted to the uses of local Pacific foods. Other leaflets available in this series are:

Leaflet 1 - Taro (revised)
Leaflet 2 - Pawpaw (revised)
Leaflet 3 - Mango (revised)
Leaflet 4 - Guava (revised)
Leaflet 6 - Green leaves (revised)
Leaflet 7 - Banana
Leaflet 8 - Coconut
Leaflet 9 - Breadfruit
Leaflet 10 - Pineapple
Leaflet 11 - Citrus fruits
Leaflet 12 - Pumpkin
Leaflet 13 - Sweet potato
Leaflet 14 - Yam
Leaflet 15 -, Nuts and seeds
Leaflet 16 - Legumes
Leaflet 17 - Fish
Leaflet 18 - Seafood

Published by the South Pacific Commission and printed by Stredder Print Limited, Auckland, New Zealand.

First printed 1982. Revised 1986. Second revision 1995, printed with funding from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation ACP/EU

South Pacific Commission Cataloguing-in-publication data

Cassava - Rev. ed. - (South Pacific foods leaflets; 5)

1. Cassava as food. 2. Cookery (Tapioca)
I. Series

641.336 - AACR2 - ISBN 982-203-411-3

© Copyright South Pacific Commission, 1986.

Original text: English

Copies of this and other leaflets in this series can be obtained from:

Community Health Services
(Nutrition Programme)
South Pacific Commission
B.P. D5 98848 Noumea Cedex,
New Caledonia

or from

Agriculture Library
South Pacific Commission
Private Mail Bag
Suva. Fiji.

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